Election 2023: Is Spokane Emerging from its Conservative Cocoon?


The political left took its lumps with multiple defeats in Tuesday’s races for the Seattle City Council, where moderate candidates prevailed. Meanwhile, conservatives appear on the losing end of two high-profile Washington elections. Most notably, Spokane is likely to emerge with a progressive mayor and city council.

Lisa Brown is the Democrats’ one enduring high-profile politician in Eastern Washington. She has been elected to both houses of the Legislature, did a stint as Senate Majority Leader, toyed with a governor’s race, and served as chancellor of Washington State University-Spokane.  She campaigned successfully for the Wazzu medical school in the Lilac City.

In an officially non-partisan race, Brown enjoys a three-point lead over incumbent Mayor Nadine Woodward. She had coattails on Tuesday, as a progressive, Betsy Wilkerson, was elected president of the Spokane City Council along with two other like-minded candidates.

Mayor Woodward was a longtime Spokane TV anchor. Narrowly elected mayor in 2019, she has been, in words by Seattle talk host Jason Rantz, “an actual Republican who’s in office as mayor of a major city.” Seattle-bashing became a theme of Woodward’s fall campaign, which also featured an appearance at a rally sponsored by militia-linked ex-State Rep. Matt Shea.

Woodward was bedeviled, however, by homelessness, an issue which Fox News and Rantz have used to disparage Democratic mayors of cities up and down the West Coast. Camp Hope, in Spokane, was for a time the state’s largest homeless encampment.

If Brown’s lead holds up, Spokane will see the end of 12 years Republican rule, and an end to divided government. Woodward had feuded repeatedly with a liberal council majority.  Former aides to Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers were deeply involved in Woodward’s campaigns, still smarting from Brown’s unsuccessful challenge of Rodgers in 2018.

A second defeat looms for the right. Incumbent Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney trails challenger Susanna Johnson by about 4,500 votes.  Elected in 2019, Fortney is best known for rehiring three deputies previously dismissed for misconduct and refusing to implement Gov. Jay Inslee’s health measures dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fortney has survived a pair of recall bids. Challenger Johnson served 30 years with the sheriff’s department, rising to third-in-command. She is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He ran with support from the Herald of Everett as well as four former sheriffs.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. I appreciate this analysis very much. It will be extremely interesting to watch how Spokane changes in the coming few years.
    As to Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney — please let this embarrassment to law enforcement be on his way out. People there deserve much better.


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